Should Sandwich Shop Workers Be Forced to Sign “Non-Compete” Clauses?

Our New York wage and hour attorneys strive to assist workers who’ve experienced grievous harms, like harassment, discrimination, and retaliation. We also hope to educate the broader public about some of the shameful practices that contribute to worker misery and inequality.

To wit, a recent story in the New York Times caught our eye and kindled our ire.

Apparently, fast food restaurants around the country, such as Jimmy John’s, have been asking their sandwich shop workers to sign “non-compete” clauses. If you’re not familiar with these clauses, they are agreements that prevent employees from seeking work at competitive businesses within a certain timeframe.

Non-competes obviously make sense if you’re a high level executive working on a complex, sensitive engineering project. A company doesn’t want to lose an engineer to a rival firm and to allow that person to share precious and sensitive information.

On the other hand, they make very little sense when it comes to sandwich shop workers.

As employee at Jimmy John’s who ditches his company and takes up a position with Subway or Blimpie will not be exporting any valuable company secrets or training methods.

As the New York Times article points out, most non-competes have symmetry. Yes, the employee agrees to remain loyal to the company for a certain interval of time. But the company ALSO provides something in return, such as job security or other perks, to induce the person to sign the agreement.

Fast food workers generally do not get much security. Their schedules can change on a whim. They can be fired on short notice. They don’t get much for signing the non-compete!

The Times article raises three crucial questions that speak to broader ideas about what workers should expect… and what we should expect from our workers:

“1. What is legally acceptable? The courts are even now hearing litigation on some of these questionable employment practices. 2. What is economically acceptable? Over the last six years, unemployment has been very high, meaning workers have had little leverage to demand higher pay and better conditions. 3. What is morally acceptable? In this depressed job market, employers can get away with some practices that are entirely legal but seem fundamentally unfair.”

Our team here at Joseph & Kirschenbaum is dedicated to helping workers like you understand and aggressively protect their rights. Call us now at (212) 688-5640, or email us to learn more about how we can help you obtain justice, peace of mind and clarity about your wages.

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